Lot 20
  • 20

Gerhard Richter

Estimate
3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Gerhard Richter
  • Familie Hötzel
  • signed, dated 66 and inscribed II. on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 30 x 19  3/4  inches

Provenance

Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Omer't Kindt, Belgium
André Simoens Gallery, Knokke, Belgium
SperoneWestwater Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1997

Exhibited

Zurich, City-Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Gerhard Richter, March - April 1966

Literature

Exh. Cat., Aachen, Gegenverkehr e.V. Zentrum für aktuelle Kunst, Gerhard Richter, 1969, no. 19, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Venice, German Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia: 36. Esposizione, 1972, p. 50, no. 105, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Gerhard Richter. Bilder/Paintings 1962-1985, 1986, p. 44, no. 105, illustrated and p. 364 (text)
Armin Zweite, Gerhard Richter. Atlas, Munich, 1989, p. 17 (text)
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter. Werkübersicht / Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, 1993, n.p., no. 105, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Gerhard Richter in Dallas Collections, 2000, p. 2 (text)
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 100 (text)
Exh. Cat., Burgdorf, Switzerland, Museum Franz Gertsch, Gerhard Richter. Ohne Farbe, 2005, pp. 37-38 (text)
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, Vol. 1 (nos. 1-198), Ostfildern, 2011, p. 241, no. 105, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Hauntingly familiar yet cloaked in enigmatic anonymity, Gerhard Richter’s arresting Familie Hötzel is an exquisitely executed paradigm of the artist’s iconic and technically astute Photo Paintings from the 1960s. Embodying the nostalgic allure of an aged image, Richter masterfully yields his reduced grisaille palette to build a soft sfumato depiction of an indistinct family portrait. Reducing contrast and detail to favor delicate insinuations of form, the artist’s idiosyncratically blurred brushwork constructs a mysterious vision between painting and photography. Familie Hötzel stands as a philosophical affront to the burgeoning dominance of the photographic image in early 1960s visual culture, as well as a move to reorient the conceptual capacities of painting towards a new objectivity.  Depicting a German nuclear family posed happily for their portrait, Richter's image captures the fragility of memory and alludes to the haunting histories lurking behind the most ordinary of photographs. Here, the young child holds a traditional German 'schultüte' – given to children by their parents on the first day of school upon entering first grade, the schultüte is a cardboard cone filled with toys and sweets, intended to celebrate this milestone. Richter's painting, however, blurs the innocence of this occasion, instead suffusing the memory with a lurking peril that compromises any representation of this traumatic period in history.

In 1961 Gerhard Richter fled East Germany and settled in the major cultural center of Düsseldorf. Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter’s childhood and early career were burdened with the heavy ideology and aesthetic dogma of both Nazism and the Soviet Union respectively. Trained as a mural painter confined to the typically utilitarian and naturalistic style of Socialist Realism, Richter’s emigration to West Germany afforded him an opportunity to radically re-orient the nature of his practice; a transition that would have a profound effect on the history of contemporary painting.  Along with notable figures such as Sigmar Polke, Richter became a proponent of Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalist Realism), which used popular imagery as a sardonic critique of how ideology could be visually presented as reality on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Wearied by the propaganda of his youth, at the heart of his most gripping line of inquiry, Richter maintained a staunch skepticism surrounding images and their ontological claims to truth.

Within this ambitious thesis, Richter foregrounds the dialogue between painting and photography. Eschewing the traditional practice of painting from live models, from the early 1960s Richter collected hundreds of photographs from personal and mass-media collections to construct an encyclopedia of source images known as his Atlas. An embodiment of the artist’s long held desire to "paint like a camera," crafted in a soft and black and white that bears no witness to the marks of the painter, Familie Hötzel  questions the status of both mediums as records of reality. As the artist has remarked, “My pictures have little to do with the original photo. They are totally painting (whatever that may mean). On the other hand, they are so like the photograph that the thing that distinguished the photo from all other images remains intact.”  (the artist interviewed by Rolf Schön in 1972 in Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews, 1962-1993, Cambridge, 1995, p. 74) Copying a found photograph without an emotive interpretation, Richter seeks to emulate the sense of objectivity that has been associated  with photography as a medium, based on ideas of scientific instantaneity; a status denied to art which has been so fervently adopted to construct myths and mystify its public.

Whilst Richter’s purview of photographic sources is uniquely expansive, his use of family portraits as subject material is limited. Created between 1962 and 1971, Richter only painted 14 works which take on the traditional family portrait format, showing multiple members posing in accordance with the widespread commemorative tradition.  Of these, only three other examples are of a comparably full length format, including Frau Wolleh mit Kindern (Mrs Wolleh with Children) from 1968, now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Attesting to both their rarity and conceptual importance, Richter’s other family portrait paintings currently grace important German public collections including: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden; Museum Küppersmühle, Duisburg; Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Münster; and the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal.

Rooted in a fascination with social rituals, the genre of portrait photography was of particular interest to Richter. Whilst the painted portrait is ancient and was traditionally the reserve of an elite, since the Nineteenth Century the exponential rise in access to photographic technology has made the family portrait common practice. Referring to Familie am Meer, currently in the Museum Küppersmühle,  Stefan Gronert has remarked that, “the fact that the painting does not depict a real family shows that Richter was not interested in authenticity here, but rather in the typical representation of a family.” (Exh. Cat., Burgdorf, Switzerland, Museum Franz Gertsch, Gerhard Richter. Ohne Farbe, 2005, p. 31) Whilst claiming to offer an objective aesthetic record, the production of a family photograph involves a staging of an artificial or preconceived memory rather than simply recording a spontaneous event. By composing family members according to size and status, the purported personal character of the family photograph is also strangely subsumed in a homogenized set of visual codes. It is this curious mixture of the personal and the impersonal that Richter so successfully grasps in the present work.  Further elucidating his interest in exploring  images as ‘types’ rather than realities, Richter has gone so far as to say that: “A portrait must not express anything of the sitter’s ‘soul’, essence or character. For this reason, among others, it is far better to paint a portrait from a photograph, because no one can ever paint a specific person.” (the artist cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 74)

The enigmatic anonymity endowed on Richter’s figures is crucially achieved by the dragging and dabbing of his dry brush across the surface of the painted canvas whilst still wet. This finely orchestrated obfuscation allows Richter to explore the idea of a family portrait rather than create one, and to de-familiarize this familiar form of representation. As Margrit Behm observes, “In a formal sense the technique is employed to create distance between reality and painting; in terms of content, it is the expression of a painter’s doubt about the possibility of really saying anything about reality.” (Margrit Behm, "The Constitution of Visual Truth During Painting," in Jochen Poetter, Ed., Richter, Polke, Rainer, Baden-Baden, 1996, p. 51) Richter’s second-hand traces of an image evoke the natural chemical processing of early photography whilst declaring a haunting fade into near abstraction that can only be achieved through paint.  By copying a photographic genre which itself borrowed compositional elements from the traditions of painting, Richter enacts a profound destabilization of the narratives of representation and the accepted modes of viewing that can be accepted for their veracity.

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